We have several forest fires burning in Colorado. So far, I have not been involved, which is good. These days when I get involved, something has gone wrong. Very, very wrong.
But, back when I got married, I was a crew boss (on fires not at home). A crew boss is responsible for a twenty-person crew. He is to give the crew direction through out the day, make sure they have what they need, deal with the financial issues, and most importantly make sure everyone gets home safe. Many people on the crew were in the same situation – fighting forest fires was the only opportunity we had to make additional money. We all jumped at the chance to go on fires if for no other reason than to supplement our income.
We had been on one fire for fifteen days and were heading home. I was told we were being diverted to another fire that had just started. This news had mixed reviews. On one hand, we had it in our minds we were going home but we also saw the opportunity for additional money. It really didn’t matter what we wanted. We were available; we were going to the new fire.
We arrived late in the evening and true to form, as with most new fires, things were in a state of disarray. The command post was still in the back of a U-Haul truck, communications hadn’t figured out the radio frequencies, key people in the command staff were still trying to get there, and most importantly, food and supplies were slow in arriving.
In the Spring, at night, especially at high elevations the temperature drops off rapidly. This is good for controlling the fire but bad if you and your crew were expecting sleeping bags to be available. They were ordered but hadn’t arrived. Everyone started scrambling trying to find something, anything, to keep them warm that night. It was forecasted to be in the mid thirties. Tarps are always the first to go followed closely by cardboard boxes. Many people would get two boxes and tear them down. You would sleep on one and “cover up” with the other.
I was walking behind the supply tent to get me a couple of cardboard boxes when I saw it - the most perfect cardboard box in the world. I studied it briefly and decided not to break it down. Given my stature, I figured I could fit in that cardboard box. Then by closing the flaps stay fairly warm.
The crew gave off a little laughter as I proceeded to climb into my well . . . sleeping box. Yeah, it was a little cramped and I was a little crunched up but it was warm.
Sleep did not come easy that night. I was twisted up pretty good in that cardboard boxes and supply trucks and buses bringing in additional crews were arriving about every fifteen minutes.
Just when I was about to fall asleep a hand grabbed my cardboard box and someone gave it a good tug. It almost pulled me over. That irritated me. I jumped up, kind of like well . . . a Ralph-In-The-Box. My arms were waving in the air, my hair was all messed up, and I was probably yelling something.
It was a guy from an Indian crew. He saw the box and like everyone else was just trying to find something to stay warm with. When I popped out of that box, his eyes were the size of silver dollars. He took one look at me and ran up the mountain.
The next day we got our section of line tied in with the other fire crew. That's when I realized the crew boss was the one that pulled on my cardboard box the night before. He stared at me and I stared at him. Suddenly, he had his whole crew standing around him and he was telling them something in their native tongue. I thought he might be telling them I was the great cardboard box spirit. But, the way he was crouching down and laughing, I don’t think so.